Hmmm, well here goes. The confessions of a former "chicken hater" who has dipped her toe back into chickens for the third time...because I got hooked. Thank you Napoleon.
I was a city girl, Navy brat. Then Dad retired while I was in high school and moved us to the "family" in the Appalachian Mountains of NC. Culture shock. I hated chickens. The poop. The crowing. Fast forward of living 25 years in the mountains, where I learned all the self-sufficiency anyone needs...not as a "prepper" but as someone who knew that being married to a construction worker in the mountains meant it was always feast or famine, never anything in between. My full time job paid the bills, his covered toys and fun...because working for the state meant I had the steady paycheck. Raised my children there, because it was wonderful for them to grow up that way rather than going back to the city. We kept a cow to slaughter every other year, I had my veggie garden to can...but I refused chickens. No way. And to beat all, I had several elderly relatives who had Bantams...all the trouble of a chicken and you couldn't even get a decent amount of eggs out of them. "Worthless" I would say to myself.
Then, after YEARS of listening to my daughter beg, I relented and told her she could get a couple of chickens. She was a teenager, old enough to take care of them completely by herself, and we could get some eggs out of it. No problem. So she and my father head to the big flea market in Pickens, SC to buy a couple chickens...I should have known better.
They come back all smiles, and presented me with two of the cutest little matched laying pair of Lavender Wyandotte Bantam chickens you've ever seen. They were promptly named Napoleon and Josephine. I promptly threw up my hands and said, "Of course! Leave it to you to go get chickens that can't even give us decent eggs." Napoleon cocked his little head and warbled at me, "Challenge accepted".
We clipped their wings, installed them into a coop we put up under our lean-to, and thought that would be that. Wrong.
Josephine was a normal acting little hen. She'd lay. She ate. She clucked softly if you petted her. But she was a bit of an introvert and was perfectly happy doing her thing. Napoleon, however, was different. Napoleon loved attention. As long as you would talk to him, he would talk to you...he loved to follow you around and continue the conversation. He was also incredibly smart, and knew how to pull tricks off. At the end of our road was an unruly bunch that rented a small trailer. I knew they had fighting chickens...and just like the slime they were, if chickens didn't "make the cut", they just turned them loose to wander, be killed by predators, whatever. A small flock had formed and the rooster was the largest red rooster I have ever seen. They would often peck and scratch up the road toward our house, which irritated me no end. So Napoleon decided that HE was the king of our hill, but he wasn't stupid. He would wait until one of us got home...then he would run down the driveway, screeching and making a huge racket, ready to take on that giant rooster. After an initial pause, the giant would start after him...and Napoleon would book it right back up where one of us was standing to run off the big one. Smart kid.
Needless to say, after the initial clipping, we never tipped them again and they "free-ranged" in our yard and pasture. Napoleon became best friends with our very large Great Dane, Max, and knew he was supposed to stay in the backyard unless we were home. I can't tell you how many times I came home and found Napoleon hanging around the house. I'd yell at him, "Napoleon, get back in the fence!" He'd cluck and warble at me, then fly back over the fence into the backyard. He decided on several occasions that he didn't appreciate being left home while the kids went to school and we went to work, so he would jump in the car or the van, ready to go with us. I truly finally understood why my elderly relatives had Banties...they were pets, entertaining, smart, so funny at times. He often perched on Max's back and just hung out. He figured out that the backdoor had a fullview glass pane, instead of screen like the others...so if he felt we hadn't been outside enough with him, he would peck the glass continuously until someone came to the door. We had several fun years with him, until the day we all came home and instead of Max running to the fence, he stayed laying in the grass, head down. Napoleon lay next to him, looking for all the world like he was just sleeping. Max's muzzle was covered in blood, and my heart did an elevator shaft drop...until I realized there was no blood on Napoleon. It didn't take long to figure out what had happened...we just followed the trail. Napoleon must have been wandering at one end of the yard. A fox went after him, crunching down and probably breaking his neck almost instantly...at least before Max could get to him. We found the fox, its throat ripped out where it tried to get out of the yard. Max had then apparently come over to where his buddy was and laid down next to him, guarding him until we got home. Josephine was all out of sorts until we finally gave her to one of my Aunts and integrated her into her little flock.
Fast forward 10 or so years...kids are grown, moved around a bit, ended up in the mountains of VA. Picked up some regular laying chicks, sexlink from TSC. Discovered that full size chickens can end up being quite the character themselves. I felt like the Chicken Whisperer quite often as they followed me around deadheading flowers. Learned the hard way that when you aren't comfortable with the security on the coop, it doesn't matter that the Significant Other says, "It's fine, nothings going to happen."....because it WILL happen. There was a ventilation hole that I said we needed to put hardware cloth on...he said it would be fine. It was. For 3 weeks. Then one night the coop turned into a slaughter house, all 8 chickens killed. Lesson learned and egos be ******. I had been right, I hadn't stuck to my guns, and disaster happened. Never again.
Couple of years later, happily single now, bought a place in SC...remembered all the lessons learned earlier and tried to do it right but be flexible enough to enjoy it. Understand and prefer as much self-sufficiency as possible without being rabid about it. My flock is started, and I adore them. Old shed with a lean-to has been converted into a safe chicken coop and run, with plans to pretty it up now that its safe (no laughing at the Chicken Shack). Love having BYC to fall back on when I hit those questions that make me nervous, but also learned that not all chickens read the manual, so I have to go by the personalities I have as well as "golden rules". With all that said as background, my lessons learned:
1. A predator can fit in any hole larger than an inch in your coop...yes, they can. If it's an opening that can't be sealed off, have hardware cloth on it. No exceptions for the coop.
2. Chickens are like people...they will have different personalities. Pick breeds that are appropriate for what you do with them. Know that there will be exceptions to that breed.
3. Use chicken nipples and pvc pipe or a 5 gallon bucket to water. Yes, they figure it out immediately. Yes, your back and feet will thank me several times daily. Unless you are the type of person who thrives on cleaning out fermented food, slopping up wet bedding, and sterilizing water containers 4 or 5 times a day. Which I am not. No, even hanging the waterer will not stop all the crap from getting in the water. It sucks.
4. Hang the feeder or set it up with PVC pipe. If it doesn't have a cover, make one. Get or make the biggest one you can find (once again, saving steps in and out of the coop).
6.The first coop you build or buy will be too small, no matter what. It will be. Really. Don't stress over it. When you build your bigger one, the first one will be perfect to use for brooding, first aid, or introductions of new birds to your flock. So technically at that point, you "planned ahead". That sounds better. Chicken Math...the struggle is real.
7. Find what your weakness is and be ready for it. I can handle seeing the chicks and such at TSC and other farm stores...livestock auctions are my weak point. I know that no matter how little money I have or how much I tell myself logically not to do it, I WILL buy a beautiful bird at the auction. So IF I go, I need to already have the housing situation figured out...because it's gonna happen. Or just don't go. Period. Which is how I ended up with this cutie juvenile, Nala. Because, well...blue eggs.
8. Pay attention at the auction. It becomes very apparent what chickens have been handled and which haven't. Depending on how your HH is set up, this can be very important...you don't want unfriendly birds around young children. My rooster, Chauntecleer (changed from Titan), was obviously used to being handled, being around people, and was completely unfazed by all the hubbub of the stockyard. He was a beautiful chicken and I bought him without even knowing if he was a hen or a rooster (wasn't listening, couldn't tell from where I was sitting)...it didn't matter, I was going straight from my gut. Trust it, it's right. I didn't realize how true that was until last week. I walked in, scooped him up to say hello and carried him while checking the nest boxes. Talked to him for a few minutes and just happened to glance down to put him up on his perch...and observed a set of spurs that are every bit of 4" to 5" long. He could have seriously hurt me many times (yes, I've read up since then and found out I shouldn't have been treating him like that since he's the "leader"). When I realized how well armed he is, I just marveled at his patience with me. I let him come to me now, so he can decide how much affection he deems appropriate out in public lol. Look at this face...does he look like he could hurt anyone with those fluffy feet and his little pom-pom on his head?!?!
9. You can integrate your flock and its not rocket science. Get a good gander at your chickens, their personalities, and some common sense. And supervise, supervise, supervise! You will spend twice as much time integrating and worrying and watching for someone to twitch as the actual integration...and if you don't know a behavior, just ask.
10. I wish someone had told me while we were tearing out cabinets in the kitchen and tearing down old fallen down sheds to save more of the materials to use. I had no idea I could make a nesting group out of that old dresser...or that I could have used those kitchen cabinet doors to make nesting boxes...or that I could have repurposed those hinges for the coop. I wish I could have told myself to stop looking at all the pretty coops and putting my mind in that little box and open it instead to all the creative and whimsical things I could do with the coop and run...I could have so many more features already that I have to wait on. At least we are recycling materials from the leaned over workshop in time. The other side is closed in now too and we have real roosts instead of the ladder. A few new boards and some paint and it'll be darn right cute.
11. I wish I had known that "straight run" chicks means "80% roosters".
12. I wish I had paid attention as a child at my grandparents and realized that there was more than one rooster and it wasn't a problem. El Chapo would have been taken out of his cage much sooner and welcomed into the family instead of keeping him caged thinking I was taking him back to sell because I didn't need 2 roosters, no matter how pretty he is.
13. I wish I had known at a livestock auction that when they say "Here's a pair of black silkies up for auction" they mean a rooster and a hen, NOT "a couple of black silkie hens"...which is how I ended up with El Chapo in the first place. At least this one was...I've got to get a good pic of El Chapo now that he's here to stay.
14. I wish I had heard of Deep Layer Bedding sooner.
15. I wish I had known that chicks are very resilient and very fragile at the same time. What that translates to is that they can take a lot as long as they have water, food, heat, and clean bedding...but that some are still going to die and that's just the way of things.
16. I wish I had bought that old picnic bench because it would be handy over near the run for watching the chickens. I've got to go buy more chairs now.
17. I wish I had known all the things a rooster keeps in line besides predators. I had no idea of what peace and harmony a mature rooster can bring to his flock.